Album Review: Rare Americans 2

This album’s unique storytelling focused on the ups and downs of life has its own ups and downs.

Released March 5, 2021

Genre-defying music, fascinatingly bizarre lyrics, and a “whatever happens, happens,” attitude lead to a listening experience that won’t soon be replicated. The second album from Canadian band weaves effortlessly through styles and tones in one of the most interesting albums of 2021 (so far). Following (and improving upon in almost every way) 2018’s Rare Americans, Rare Americans 2 finds the band stretching the limits of their capabilities for a new, unique creation.

Two years ago, Rare Americans were practically nobodies: just another band trying to get by in this crazy excuse for a world that we live in. Everything changed for them with the decision to animate one of the videos. Two years later, that song, the album opener “Brittle Bones Nicky”, has racked up over 47 million views on YouTube. It came as no surprise to anyone when they immediately switched to animating all of the future songs, a gimmick that has paid off very well. Each of the songs aims to tell a story with distinct, fleshed out characters. Two years later I got that very song as an ad on YouTube and sat and watched through the full 3 minutes, instead of automatically skipping it after 15 seconds like usual. I immediately followed the link and was introduced to a whole world of music.

There are some negatives to this album. Ten of the album’s 17 songs had previously been released as singles, which gave it a sense of familiarity, like I had heard it all before – because, well, I had. That being said, I completely understand why they choose to do things this way. For one, the album presumably would have been out a lot sooner had 2020 not been a burning trash fire of a year, and it was a rather effective marketing strategy. In this day and age, trends online move so quickly that there is a limited amount of publicity an album can generate. By spreading out the songs over a year they were able to keep their fans constantly engaged with their online presence. People might not realize it, but having your fans asking once a month “when is the album coming out?” will always keep you in their minds, especially without live shows to extend the album cycle the way it might have in the past.

Song-by-song, they embody a different character just struggling to get by. The second track, simply titled “Milk Man”, speaks of years of struggling before finding freedom in giving up. Many songs allude to the helplessness many people feel as their lives are being manipulated by forces out of their control. Both “Milk Man” (“Pull the strings, the people dance”) and “Hullaballoo” (“We’re encrypted, subscripted, soldiers of the brand / Homo-lookalikes, million-man marching band”) deal with these themes. “Gas Mask” deals with the fear of failure and declares, “Who wants to die an ordinary bloke?” Others tell stories: the two-part “Brittle Bones Nicky” deals first with the life, then the afterlife, of a man who was dealt the worst hand life could give. “Ryan and Dave” is the story of two childhood friends: one who turned out normal, the other who spiraled out of control. “Berlin” speaks of a failed relationship.

Musically the album drifts from style to style in a madcap dash, dabbling in punk and ska at times, while at others pulling from hip hop and rap. At times, the quick pace and theatrical backing vocals add a carnivalesque atmosphere to the songs. One song, the folksy acoustic number “Adults or Kids”, is far more upbeat than many of the others. All throughout the record the bass and drums are locked in tight, forming a solid foundation for the songs. The musical disconnect has its drawbacks. It feels at some times like the album is more a collection of unrelated songs rather than a cohesive whole. That’s not necessarily a problem, as they are really good songs, but they don’t feel connected the way a group of songs written and recorded at the same time might have.

Rare Americans 2 is a whirlwind ride through life and music that will bring you through the full range of human experience. It’s not perfect by any measure, but it’s creative, unique, and has passion to spare, which is really all you need to get most of the way to greatness. If they keep improving, Rare Americans should have the whole world ahead of them – if they can reach out and take it.